City Center Encores! Closes Season with Kander & Ebb’s Zorba —
Turturro, Fontana, Davis, Mazzie, and Wanamaker Headline
By: Ellis Nassour
John Kander and Fred Ebb’s galvanic musical re-imagining of Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1946 best-selling tale of Zorba, a larger than life Greek, closes Tony-honored City Center Encores! 22nd Season with a stellar cast – some in roles you’d never expect them in. It runs seven performances May 6 – 10.
The novel was adapted into a hugely successful 1964 film, nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. The 1968 stage adaptation by Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof) ran 305 performances and was nominated for eight Tonys, including Best Musical.
Zorba! tells of the friendship of the miner and boastful jack-of-all-trades who "lives every day as if it will be his last" with Nikos, a young American student who sets aside his bookish life to, of all things, reopen a mine on the islands. They become intimately involved, respectfully, with aging, lovelorn innkeeper and former courtesan Madam Hortense, whom Zorba fondly calls Bouboulina, and widow in deep morning. Commenting on the story is a Greek chorus-like group, led by The Leader [an Earth Mother twist on the novel’s narrator], who, with the Company, begins the musical by explaining exactly what "Life Is."
Kander and Ebb were known for breaking musical barriers and tackling shows that didn’t always have happy endings. The score for Zorba is highlighted by some of their most haunting compositions, such as "Only Love" and "Why Can’t I Speak," Zorba’s rousing "The First Time" and "Grandpapa," and the equally rousing finale "I Am Free." Don Walker’s original orchestrations have a definite Greek bent. The only thing missing might be a glass of ouzo.
More than a few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that the ininimitable stage director and actor and veteran film and TV star John Turturro would star as Alexis Zorba. Who knew he could sing? But then, in a nearly one-year long 1983 revival, who knew Anthony Quinn, Oscar-nominated for his film portrayal, could carry a musical?
[In the revival, Quinn’s co-star was the very same Madam Hortense as in the film, classical pianist and veteran character actress Lila Kedrova, who after taking home an Oscar also won Tony and DD Awards – and in her only Broadway outing.]
Watch Tony nominee Lorraine Serabian and Company of Zorba on the 1969 Tonys with their six-minute rousing opening number, Kander and Ebb’s "Life Is":
ZORBA 1969 Tony Awards – YouTube
The 30+ Zorba! cast is also headlined by three-time Tony and DD- nominee Marin Mazzie as The Leader, DD winner and Tony nominee Santino Fontana as Niko, Tony and DD-nominee Elizabeth A. Davis at The Widow, and four-time Tony nominee and three-time DD nominee and 2006 winner Zoë Wanamaker as Madame Hortense. Featured are Adam Chanler-Berat , Robert Cuccioli, Robert Montano, and Carlos Valdes.
Former hoofer and Tony and Drama Desk-winning director Walter Bobbie
(Chicago revival, which began at Encores!) helms the concert production. Josh Rhodes (Cinderella) is choreographing. Music directing the 30+ Encores’
orchestra is Rob Berman, now in his eighth season at the podium [over 20 productions].
Appearing in the ensemble are Enrique Acevedo, Yusef Bulos, Laura D’Andre, Sean Ewing, Richard Gatta, Evangelia Kingsley, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Vanessa Lemonides, Maria-Christina Oliveras, David Scott Purdy, Sultana Taj, Waldemar, Quinones-Villanueva, Matthew Rossoff, Rommy Sandhu, Gavriel Savit, Allysa Shorte, Evan D. Siegel, Joseph J. Simeone, Alex Syiek, Nicholas Ward, and James Zannelli.
The original Broadway production starred Tony-nominated Herschel Bernardi,
former ABT ballerina turned Tony-winner Maria Karnilova [Fiddler on the
Roof, Gypsy‘s original Tessi Tura], Carmen Alvarez, John Cunningham, and Lorraine Serabian and was directed by Harold Prince.
Zorba was rumored to have a 2011 Broadway revived, directed by David Leveaux (Nine revival) and starring Antonio Banderas.
Encores! season sponsors include Stacey and Eric Mindich, Nathalie and Pablo Salame, The Shubert Foundation, and the Stephanie and Fred Shuman Fund for Encores! Support for Zorba! is provided by Chobani and Roz and Jerry Meyer.
Zorba at City Center performs Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30P.M., Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, and Sunday at 2 and 7. Tickets are $30-$130 and available at the City Center box office, through CityTixt at (212) 581-1212, and online at www.NYCityCenter.org.
Coming soon to City Center’s Encores! Off Center: June 24-27. William Finn’s zany, big-hearted musical about a medical tragedy, A New Brain, starring Tony and DD nominee Jonathan Groff ; July 1 and 2, three performances only, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s giddy, gory musical classic Little Shop of Horrors starring Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal as Seymour, and Tony and DD-nominee Ellen Greene (the original Audrey); and July 15-18, Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, which follows Jazz Age party girl Queenie – portrayed by Tony and DD winner Sutton Foster – over one decadent, booze-soaked night.
Photos: Joan Marcus